Since being labeled dinosaurs by a former Navy Surgeon General, the MERCY and COMFORT have been reactivated for emergencies 3 times in addition to deploying on numerous HA/DR missions. photo by Jim Dolbow

Since being labeled dinosaurs by a former Navy Surgeon General, the MERCY and COMFORT have been reactivated for emergencies 3 times in addition to deploying on numerous HA/DR missions. Pretty impressive feat for dinosaurs, don't you think? photo by Jim Dolbow

Christopher Munsey wrote in the 9 August 2004 edition of Navy Times an article entitled, “Navy medicine moves closer to combat zone: Hospital ships likely to retire, surgical teams head ashore in new plan to treat wounded.”

According to Munsey:

The Navy’s retiring top doc says combat medicine is better done on the battlefield than on a ship at sea.

As a result, hospital ships like Comfort and Mercy soon will be retired. And the recent trend toward smaller, more flexible and more mobile hospitals on land will continue.

Vice Adm. Michael L. Cowan, the Navy surgeon general and chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, said the most visible symbols of Navy medicine, the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy, likely will be retired in the coming years.

“They’re wonderful ships, but they’re dinosaurs,” he said.

Crewed by Military Sealift Command civilian mariners, Comfort deployed for what became Operation Iraqi Freedom in January 2003.

About 1,200 medical and support personnel from National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Md., and other East Coast clinics staffed the Comfort’s 1,000-bed hospital last year. The ship’s hospital treated coalition wounded, prisoners of war and Iraqi civilians…

… “They were designed in the ’70s, built in the ’80s, and frankly, they’re obsolete,” Cowan said.

As an alternative to Comfort and Mercy, options are still being studied to include trauma treatment spaces aboard the Navy’s next generation of amphibious ships, he said.

The eventual move away from big hospital ships at sea is mirrored by a trend toward smaller, more flexible and more mobile hospitals on land, Cowan said.

Thank God the COMFORT and MERCY survived the cutbacks and were not prematurely retired.

The absurdity of them being labeled obsolete was dispelled less than 5 months later when the USNS MERCY was activated in response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004.

Moreover, according to the commanding officer of the USNS MERCY’s Medical Treatment Facility, “When the Indonesian military leader in Banda Aceh thanked Mercy there were “tears in his eyes,” proving that a “hospital ship can be the best diplomat of the 21st century.” (p. 96 of Waves of Hope: The U.S. Navy’s Response to the Tsunami in Northern Indonesia h/t Information Dissemination

Fast Forward to Haiti today. Could the Port-au-Prince airport have handled all the additonal flights needed to ferry the medical capability, personnel, and supplies etc brought to the relief mission by COMFORT? I doubt it.




Posted by Jim Dolbow in Uncategorized


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  • http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com CDR Salamander

    There were A LOT of people who wanted to get rid of them. I remember in the ’03 timeframe discussing this topic with some senior Navy Doctors who wanted them gone … paralleling the arguments in the ’04 paper.

    Despite all the “have you considered” comments about seeing larger uses for Hospital Ships beyond their narrow focus – they just did not get it. No shocker – they aren’t trained to “So-So What-What Next” things.

    I always get twitchy when something is declared “obsolete” when within 1 minute you can come up a half dozen reasons they are not.

    The next question is – what platform do you base the next class from?

  • leesea

    Phibian part of the ratinale for laying up the TAH-19 class was that Navy Medicine were so impressed with the capabilities of the Fleet Hospital. Many were set up in Iraq as part of DS/S. In answer to your good question aobut what next, PLEASE PLEASE don’t anyone propose a warship baseline for the next hospital ship (like Galrahn has). The start point MUST be a passenger ship design converted to be a naval auxiliary. Mayb even another tanker conversion since so many single hulls are being laid up now do to IMO rule changes?

    The next class has to be smaller and faster to get into more places/quicker, have a larger helo deck, more organic boats, cargo holds for relief supplies and of course cargo gear to handle it all.

    Keep the TAH-19 class but in deeper reserve since the new class should become the first responder.

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    I’m thinking a RO/RO conversion would be better than a tanker. Better to have the drive on capability for ambulances. And with a little work, I’m sure the ramp could be used to support boats.

  • Jim Dolbow

    Good question Salamander. I have the same twitching ailment too.

    I agree w/Leesea. sorry galrahn

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